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  • In my twenty-six years on this planet, I have never heard my father cry.

    I have seen him do many things, but never once have I seen him shed a tear. I have seen him break glass. I have seen him hurl objects through the air. I have seen him express his discontent at the world around him in the only way he knows how. I have seen my father rage.

    I have heard him talk himself into fury, the low mumbling bubbling into bellowing from the kitchen when he thought no one was listening. There were so many times, he must have known we were listening.

    I have seen my father struggle. A working man forced into retirement by a company he loathed each day of every single one of his thirty-one years employed. The only thing he knew in the world. He knew working there longer than he's known me or my sister.

    I have seen his mental stability degrade in the years post-retirement.


    I'm on the phone with him, and he's telling me about his low-paying job. Third shift at a local motel in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois. My mother hates my father's job. She hates how much effort he puts into it. She hates that it pays so little when they're both so entrenched in debt because she went back to school to become a teacher.

    This is a phone call I don't want to have. This is a phone call I've put off for weeks, if not months. Every conversation with Dad is the same. He asks me (again) if I liked The Dark Knight (yes, from 2008). He asks me (again) where I work (at a fruit stand). He tells me (again) how good the red snapper is at Glenn's Diner, and how we should really get together soon and go there to try it. I've only had their scallops in the half-dozen or so times I've been there. I think it's partially out of spite.

    I stumble through the conversation I've had before. I love my father because he's a wonderful person. I am driven mad by him because he can't for the life of him remember anything we've ever talked about ever. I am pacing in the kitchen, the floorboards whining under my feet. I can't stay still when I'm on the phone. He's mumbling something on the other end, and I'm waiting for him to start droning on about how all Republicans are fucking idiots and they're ruining this country. I agree with you, Dad, but, man, I can only agree so much.

    He tells me that it's nice to talk to me. He tells me that he likes his job because he likes helping people. I pause. He keeps going on about how he feels like he really has a knack for customer service. This job is bringing him joy. I've never heard him say such a thing.

    Apparently, I got it from him. My mother is the entertainer. She's good at talking with people. My father wants to help people. I want to help people. I didn't know we were so alike.

    I'm listening. We're actually talking now. He tells me about how therapy is going. He tells me about how he doesn't feel appreciated. He tells me how hurt it makes him when people don't give him a chance to fail. Everyone is looking out for everyone else, but when he makes a mistake, he never hears the end of it. I can see where he's coming from. My mom has the support network. My dad has no one.

    I tell him he never has to feel like he has no one to talk to. I'm here. Why did I fucking say that? I hate talking on the phone.

    He says that he wants me to know how sorry he is that he wasn't a better father. He says he's so proud of me, and he tells me how much he loves me.

    I am a lover of words, and I have nothing to say.

    "You don't need to apologize, Dad."

    He says he knows, but he wants to tell me.

    I don't think a lot about my childhood. The memories are always hazy, and hazier still are the memories of him. He was a father who was always there, but never present. I grew up with my mother as the parent, and my father watched movies on the couch. Many years later, I realize just how hard he struggled with his own mind while he sat there staring at the television.

    "I know how hard it is to deal with the things going on in your head. I don't want you to ever apologize, Dad."


    "I love you. I am always trying to be a better person. I think that I got that from you."

    He says something, but it's garbled. I can't tell if the cell signal suddenly went bad or not.

    I'm not ready to hear my father cry. I don't think he's ready either.

    He chokes through the following words: "I have to go, Keen." I feel the sadness welling in his throat. It's transposed to me. I'm spinning. I hold onto the countertop. The granite is chilly underneath my fingers. I'm reeling, trying to find something to say. It's all happening so fast, and I can't stop my head to find the words.

    A moment, maybe too long. "Okay," I say. The phone beeps in my ear. He's gone now.


    My favorite ride at Swedish Days in Geneva, Illinois was the Tilt-a-Whirl. As a child, I couldn't get enough of it. The carts, rounded up along the back and curling into a canopy, bright red, bright blue, would begin to spin on the undulating plates of metal. My insides would churn, a point in time where the sensation tickled. Dad would always ride in the cart with me because Mom hated to spin. Dad hated to spin, too. This was something I didn't find out until I was much older. He hated things that spun him around. They made him sick.

    Dad would always ride the cart with me even though the Tilt-a-Whirl made him feel sick. He worked a job he hated for thirty-one years. He spent his days outside in the sun, the wind, the rain, and the snow. He worked overtime to pull in enough money to support his family. He went to therapy, even though he never once talked about his feelings with me as I grew up. He did the things that were hard to do to be there for his family.

    He apologized for not being there, but he was always there for me on the Tilt-a-Whirl.
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